SEC openers bring surprises

SEC openers bring surprises

January 10th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The Southeastern Conference started its league schedule in men's basketball this past Saturday, beginning a 16-game grind that was sure to contain close call after close call.

Or maybe not.

All six games Saturday were decided by double digits, including Vanderbilt's 65-35 shellacking of Auburn and LSU's 81-55 drubbing of Ole Miss. The 35 points scored by the Tigers were the program's fewest in a game since 1951, and eight fewer than Auburn's football team hung on Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"I think the only thing that's predictable is that it's unpredictable," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Monday. "I think all of us probably fall into the category of not being 100 percent sure of who we are yet and what we have yet. There were obviously some very surprising scores, with ours being one of them. I didn't have any inclination that we would separate from Auburn like we did in that game.

"I'm not surprised by the unpredictability, and I wouldn't be surprised if it continued to be that way."

Two of the games were upsets, with Tennessee stunning Florida 67-56 and Arkansas topping Mississippi State 98-88.

"We were always behind on a play, and I thought our awareness and our alertness were not good," Florida's Billy Donovan said. "We got beat off the dribble too much, and we got beat inside too much. We just need to play at a much better level to have a chance to beat anybody on the road."

Ah, the road.

Perhaps this will be a season for holding serve, considering five winners were at home. Alabama was the exception, defeating Georgia 74-59 in Athens.

"Last year, we were 2-6 on the road and were a basket or two away from winning the national title," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We were in the Final Four, and we were 2-6 on the road in this league."

Takeaway surprise

That talented freshman Anthony Davis leads 15-1 and No. 2 Kentucky with 10.6 rebounds a game isn't surprising, but the 6-foot-10, 220-pounder from Chicago also leads the Wildcats with 23 steals.

"It is unusual, but he and Marcus Camby are two guards that went from 6-3 to 6-10," Calipari said. "They still have a guard mentality, and the biggest thing he does for us is he just plays. He wants to do whatever the team needs him to do to win."

Donovan dominance

Donovan is in his 16th season, and he has gone up against six Georgia coaches: Tubby Smith, Ron Jirsa, Jim Harrick, Dennis Felton, Pete Herrmann (an interim coach in 2009) and Mark Fox. The Gators host the Bulldogs tonight.

"I've always felt like the guys that have been there had a good relationship, in terms of myself and the other head coach," Donovan said, "and it's no different with Mark."

It's no secret the Gators have dominated the Bulldogs in football and basketball in recent seasons. Florida is 18-4 in the football rivalry since 1990, when Steve Spurrier began his 12 year-run in Gainesville, and the Gators are 22-7 against Georgia under Donovan and have won 14 of the last 16 meetings.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress,com or 423-757-6524.